The murder of Maddy Middleton keeps taking one horrifying turn after another. The freckled eight year-old disappeared on Sunday afternoon, spurring a massive manhunt that scoured all of Santa Cruz, California.
On Monday night police discovered the girl’s body hidden in a recycling bin inside the same apartment building from which she went missing.
Residents of the Tannery Arts Center — a progressive and highly praised Santa Cruz artist colony — were doubly shocked when police arrested one of their own for the crime: 15 year-old Adrian Jerry “A.J.” Gonzalez.
Authorities arrested a 15 year-old boy in connection with the death of eight year-old Madyson Middleton whose body was found in a recycling bin at a residential complex in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Reuters)
At first, neighbors said the incident must have been an accident, a childish game gone terribly awry.
“We heard that it was possibly a horrible accident, that something went all wrong,” neighbor Jeannie Cartabiano told The Washington Post in a phone interview late Monday night. “Whoever it was was young enough to be frightened and tried to hide the scene.”
But new details are washing away any doubts about the depravity of the crime. On Wednesday, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell announced that he was charging Gonzalez as an adult not only for murder but also for kidnapping and sexual assault.
According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez brought Maddy back to his apartment, where he tied her up, beat her, raped her and strangled her before dumping her body in the bin in the parking garage downstairs.
“We are going to bring him to justice,” Rosell said, according to local TV station KSBW. “He is looking at life in prison.”
The teenager allegedly used the promise of ice cream to lure Maddy into his trap, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“A source close to the investigation told The Chronicle that the teenager lured the girl to his apartment by offering her some ice cream and that he attacked her from behind as she was serving herself,” the newspaper reported, adding that Maddy had suffered trauma to the head in addition to being strangled.
As the horrific crime slowly comes into focus, so, too, does a profile of the alleged murderer. Neighbors have expressed shock that Gonzalez could be capable of killing a little girl.
Gonzalez had worked as a counselor at the Tannery, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Photos show him proudly demonstrating his yo-yo tricks.
“We love this guy. All of us, if you ask us what you think of him, we’d tell you he’s an outstanding kid,” Cartabiano told The Post. “He was our poster child.”
“He’s just like a normal kid,” another neighbor, Riley McShane, told KPIX. “He hangs out on the levee with other normal kids and plays with his yo-yo all day long. He doesn’t really strike any chords as being a baby killer.”
But social media posts suggest Gonzalez was actually deeply troubled. According to local media, Gonzalez’s Instagram account — disabled Wednesday morning after a flood of threats — revealed suicidal impulses.
“Among the Instagram portraits of him outside the Tannery and showing off yo-yo tricks in an apartment were other, darker pictures and commentary,” reported the Mercury News.
“Most chilling was a post from Monday, the second day of the search and the day Maddy’s body was found, that showed a short black-and-white clip of hands playing a piano to the tune of Gary Jules’ version of ‘Mad World’ — popularized on the soundtrack of 2001’s Donnie Darko, a film signified by the title character’s death dreams,” the newspaper continued.
Underneath the clip was a caption pulled from the song: “The Dreams in which I’m Dying are the Best I’ve ever had.”